While Mortals Sleep

by llamajoy

author's note: this is all my extrapolation of the origin of the three "silver-haired men," how i think they came to be. set only some little time after they all gain consciousness for the first time... advent children that they are.

"There it is again!"

"You're imagining things."

"I didn't see anything."

"No, I'm sure of it, now." Loz circled around the perimeter of their campsite, eyes trained on the luminous treebranches high above. "There's something up there."

"It was probably just a bird," said Yazoo patiently, though he hadn't seen it the first time, or even the fifth time for that matter. It wasn't just that he was humoring his brother; there was certainly something about the stillness to this ruined city that was singing along all their keyed-up nerves. Likely that was why Kadaj enjoyed the place so much. "You said it moved like a bird, didn't you?"

"You think I don't know what a bird looks like?" Loz scowled, shading his eyes in an attempt to see better, squinting against the lines of brightness spread against the sky. Nothing: the flicker of movement, if there had been movement, was gone. He turned to glare at Yazoo, but couldn't; his brother lay on his stomach with his chin propped in his hands, equal parts thoughtful and exhausted. Loz subsided with a long breath. The journey had been difficult for each of them, though none of them had spoken of it. "I mean, it can't be a bird." He curled his fingers at the silent sky, inarticulate. "Birds aren't so... sad."

Kadaj sighed impatiently, looking up at last from the intricate mechanical device in his hands. His already threadbare temper was fraying with the shortening days, and though his brothers were learning the pattern to his madness there was little enough to be done about it. He poked buttons at random with a vindictive sort of laugh, unsurprised that the little machine did not respond. It had yet to manifest any sign of its function. "Will both of you stop being ridiculous? I still say it's just your imagination."

Loz crossed his arms without retort, and resumed his measured paces. Four strides and a half-step from the water's edge to the tree with the twisted roots, four and a half strides back, from one end of their camp to the other. Not that it was much of a camp. Only a clearing between the shining trees, beneath the ruined old seashell; a treestump for Kadaj to perch on; a pile of dead wood that Yazoo had carefully collected, suggesting it might make a good fire. Loz almost chuckled to himself. Yazoo was quick like that, picking up things he saw other people doing. But, as yet the wood sat latent, pale and cold in the middle of their site.

Yazoo rolled onto his back by Kadaj's seat, lifting his hair to spill out around his head. He found that he liked this place, for all its strangeness. The unusual earth seemed to welcome him, slightly yielding to his weight, and there were no twigs or scattered dead leaves to catch in his long hair. "So how is it coming?"

Kadaj was looking not at the metal device in his lap but at Loz's unflagging vigil; he sighed again when Yazoo spoke. "Here, you try it." Lightly he tossed the thing to Yazoo, who caught it one-handed without sitting up. "He's going to pace all night, isn't he."

"I can hear you, you know." There was something nearly like a smile that tugged at Loz's lips. He did not break his stride.

"He always does on full-moon nights," Yazoo said quietly. From where he lay, the moon had yet to clear the tops of the luminescent trees, but he could see it glittering there, out of reach, beyond the branches. Experimentally he lifted the mysterious gadget between his hands, opening and closing its flat panels, learning the way that its flat dark interior surface reflected the moonlight and the treelight both. So many buttons on the inside. What could they mean? "Says the extra light gives him headaches."

Their clearing was brighter indeed than it had been the last time they had stayed here. From the center of their camp Kadaj could watch the light and shade passing across Loz's green eyes as he walked, across Yazoo's silver hair as it spread in ripples away from his face. He rubbed irritably at the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. Me too." Kadaj pursed his lips, keen eyes on the device moving back and forth through Yazoo's fingers, inexplicable and fey. He had been the one to find it; it had not yet once responded to his touch. "I haven't been able to figure that out," he confessed, after a moment.

"Try the top button on the outside," Loz said, though his back was to them at the moment. "Maybe it will light up."

Kadaj sniffed dubiously, but Yazoo lifted a pale eyebrow and pushed at the button. The little machine blinked once, twice, and then its middle panel brightened into a screen, all with a cheerful little trill. Kadaj started at the sound, staring. Yazoo only laughed, smiling upside down at Loz. "How did you know that?"

"Lucky guess," Kadaj snarled, rising to his feet and plucking it from Yazoo's offering hands. He hit the button a dozen times, unsubtly turning it on and off, just to convince himself that it actually worked. When the light was lit, the internal buttons made sounds. He would figure this thing out yet.

Yazoo shifted towards the pile of kindling, poking idly at it and listening to the dead wood clatter. He shivered, and the surprise of the sensation had him shivering again. Cold, they called it: yearning for light in darkness, needing warmth in winter. And though his self might not have known it, his spirit seemed in that moment to understand. Cross-legged he drew himself towards the waiting wood, holding his hands just above their rough-barked, dimmed surfaces.

And with a noiseless burst of leaping heat-brilliance-- there was fire there, the twigs and branches crackling as they were slowly consumed in flames. Entranced for a heartbeat he stared, trembling in the uncertainty of what he'd managed, not half as unsettling as the certainty that he knew he could do it again. The thought that he'd done it before, the nightmare surety that there was something burning just beneath his skin, a memory of fire.

Yazoo shook himself; both his siblings were staring, and in the firelight their eyes looked the same, hollow and aching. Something about the color, however, made Yazoo realize that not all warmth was in sensation; the fiery tones that reflected in Kadaj's hair and across Loz's cheekbones seemed to change them both. The thrumming arboreal light was still a pressure behind his eyes, but not so unbearable as it had been, and he found that he was somehow... contented.

"How did you do that?" Kadaj asked quietly, in a tone that was somehow anything but quiet.

"I don't know."

"...I don't know, either." Loz was looking at his hands as though they belonged to someone else. He'd stopped pacing, standing just half a stride away from the water's edge. He had not yet noticed that the rime-ice along the lake shore was shining now, melting gradually from the heat of their little blaze.

Kadaj was half-curious and half-impatient, turning to him. "What?"

"I don't know how I knew about the button," Loz said, as though it were obvious. "I just knew."

Yazoo stood, stretching out his spine in a languid curve as he moved, fingertips arching towards the treetops. Walking to Loz's side, he lay a hand gently on his brother's arm. "Don't worry about it," he said.

"But that doesn't make any sense." There was something quiet and afraid, tremulous in Loz's eyes. "How could I just--?"

Kadaj shook his head with an exasperated noise. His hair falling in his eyes, his expression was unreadable. But Yazoo leaned closer to Loz, squeezing his arms with both hands now. "We all do that," he said. His voice was soft like Kadaj's never was: a different kind of strength, supple instead of steel. "Each of us. That's what makes us who we are."

Loz struggled with this for a moment. "Like you lit the fire with your hands, you mean." It was not a question; Yazoo nodded at his perceptiveness.

"Yes. And like I know there's something out there, that you're catching glimpses of, that the rest of us just can't see."

"Like I know that you're both crazy," Kadaj murmured sullenly, but then--

"Wait! There!" He shot to his feet, his trinket tumbling forgotten to the earth, where its fall was muffled without so much as a bounce. "There's something up there!"

The three of them peered up into the heights of the trees, silent to a man, for long enough that Kadaj got a cramp in his neck; all without seeing a thing. "Sweet Shiva," he swore, shaking out his shoulders in an attempt to loosen the muscles. He didn't think too closely about the phrase he hadn't known he knew, much less that he might use it with such feeling. Uncertainty was not something he much cared for admitting.

Yazoo raised an eyebrow eloquently. Loz, ever compassionate, kneaded his broad palm against his brother's shoulderblades, and Kadaj sagged into his hands.

"You're tired," Yazoo said sagely, picking up the little machine and folding it in half, dormant again. Mysteries could wait; they had yet a little time, he could tell.

"You think?" Kadaj's voice lacked its usual edge, as his head was drooping against Loz's shoulder, silver hair bright against dark leather, like branches traced against the night sky.

"I think we should all rest," Loz suggested. Kadaj was already sagging, his head turning towards the fire as simply as a lily seeking the sun. "I think we're safe enough here."

"Maybe we'll find your bird in the morning."

"Mm. I still think you're both... crazy."

"Good night, Kadaj, Yazoo."

Perched weightlessly on a treebranch, casting no shadow and nearly invisible, Vincent Valentine turned his crimson eyes away from the campfire below him.

Gradually he realized that it was not only curiosity or morbid fascination that kept him watching, one step closer, always half a breath away from being seen. They were... familiar. For what he was, Vincent was a ever a practical man-- but he had to stop himself a whisper's length away from thinking they were hauntingly familiar. Nothing so simple as this one's grace, that one's strength, this one's mind, though these things perhaps were true.

No, there was more in the spaces between them and the language of their eyes and hands; even if their eyes had not been cat-slit, shadowed pupils holding all the darkness of a cradle crater; even if they had not been left-handed to a man, Vincent might still have suspected.

He made a sound at the back of his throat, watching the tall one whirl sleepily and stare directly at him without seeing him. Not much longer, he thought, before they see me here. Before they find themselves, and then find us all.

And it was oddly fitting, he recognized. Perhaps that scientist had had a sense of humor about him, unblackened by his learning; perhaps his mother sensed something greater in her child than simple fate.

After all, in the language of the Ancients, Sephiroth was plural.


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